Archive for April 2012

Who Said it Best (Many Times) – Paul Krugman

“And serious analysts now argue that fiscal austerity in a depressed economy is probably self-defeating: by shrinking the economy and hurting long-term revenue, austerity probably makes the debt outlook worse rather than better. 

But while the confidence fairy appears to be well and truly buried, deficit scare stories remain popular. Indeed, defenders of British policies dismiss any call for a rethinking of these policies, despite their evident failure to deliver, on the grounds that any relaxation of austerity would cause borrowing costs to soar.

So we’re now living in a world of zombie economic policies — policies that should have been killed by the evidence that all of their premises are wrong, but which keep shambling along nonetheless. And it’s anyone’s guess when this reign of error will end.”   (Death of a Fairy Tale)

The way forward is  obvious, both for us and Europe and yet fear and ignorance hold us back.  It is called conservatism.  As it ever was.

The Supremes

Headline from the New York Times today:  Justices Seem Sympathetic to Central Part of Arizona Law.  That would be the part about asking about and proving your citizenship.  Just like the Citizens United decision won’t flood politics with money, this won’t flood police decisions with racial profiling.  Why don’t they just tattoo a passport number on our arm or have us wear a star on our clothes so they can know who are the right kind of people?  Meanwhile the illegal immigration has reversed direction, but we still need a boogeyman.  Maybe we need a new direction on the Supreme Court, like putting them in reverse.

Hey Barack, It is the Economy, Stupid

Yesterday it came out that a Republican strategist explained the Republican plan for the economy as just Bush, updated.  Now with that out there and obvious, you would think Barack would be a shoe in for re-election.  I am not so sure.  If Europe, who has now proven what we have always known, you can’t cut your way out of a serious recession, stays on their austerity kick, that could have serious consequences politically for Barack.  I not the only one who thinks this.  See Robert Kuttner’s How Europe Could Sink Obama.

So with the obvious lesson of Europe and the Republicans clinging to old failed Bush policies, how could Barack go wrong?  By listening to his political advisers and trying to play the middle instead of standing tall for progressive values.  Clearly one would think that after 3 years of failed political advice (see disasterous 2010 elections, tax cut and extending the debt negotiations, oh and let’s not forget his backsliding on only making policy on good science and then voiding the FDA’s science advice on the morning after pill based upon politics) you would think he would have learned, but there are signs he is falling into the same trap.

Paul Krugman wrote a wonderful blog that gets right to the heart of the issue (Obama’s Missing Theme).  The basic gist of this is that his campaign is missing a consistent theme to hammer the Republicans.  As Paul tells it, the story they have been telling goes like this:

“First they insisted that the clearly inadequate stimulus was just right; then they have tried various anodyne slogans nobody remembers, all of which seem to imply that we’re doing just fine.

Presumably this reflects the judgment of the political team, which apparently believes that pointing out obstruction conveys an impression of weakness, and that happy talk is better than a Trumanesque campaign of hammering the do-nothing Republicans in Congress. But I have seen nothing these past three years suggesting that the political team has any idea how to play this game — and the happy talk leaves them completely flatfooted every time the economy underperforms.”

And it will underperform as Europe goes south.  So what is the story he should be telling.  Again from Paul:

“What should that story be? Obama defenders do in fact have a clear story, which goes like this: he was confronted both with a very bad economy and with complete political obstruction — which mattered, by the way, even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, because of the filibuster. So he did what he could, via stimulus and other policies, and pulled the economy back from the brink. If he hasn’t done more, well, maybe he could have gotten a somewhat bigger stimulus, maybe he could have done more on housing relief, but on the whole he did pretty well given the political environment.”

So the bottom line is not to be saying we did the right things or we did enough because most people can look around and know it is not enough.  He needs to quit trying to be half-Republican and explain why all he could get was not enough because of Republican obstructionism.  He needs to embrace progressive approach and lay out a case that we need to do more, much more, and the only way is to remove Republicans from office.  This election is not just about the Presidency, but about Congress also.  If we don’t change the whole direction of the country, we are sunk.  I wonder if he has the balls and the leadership ability to do that.

Note:  I will be traveling to the East Coast so my blogging could get spotty.  Once again, I must earn some money to pay for my grape growing ways.

It’s Safe to Go Back in the Water

Remember Jaws?  It wasn’t safe.  Now they are out in force telling us everything is okay in the Gulf.  It’s not and the real extent of the damage may not be understood for many more years.  See Antonia Juhasz’s article in The Nation Magazine, Two Years Later, BP’s Toxic Legacy.  And in many ways it is kind of like global warming where if you are dumping all that CO2 into the atmospher it has to be doing something.  Well the effects of dumping toxic oil (and dispersants) into the Gulf and exposing so many people has to be doing something also.

There are now troubling reports of damage to shrimp, mussels, clams, and other fish populations and the oil did not go away.  It is still sitting on the bottom..  The data is being hiddden because of the law suits, but it will come out.  And like those who told us the air was fine in New York after 9/11, they are out there protecting their businesses assuring you it is is safe.  But it really isn’t.  For every clean beach there is an oiled one and nobody really knows the long term effects, but they can’t be good.

Meanwhile you will see slick ads about how things are back to normal, but like an economist who knows the economy is in deep trouble, but doesn’t want to start a panic, they are out there telling us it is fine.  We should know the truth because we cannot let something like that ever happen again and it would seem that the only time Americans really learn anything is when the consequences are dire.  Well this time they are.  In the meantime see all the great laws passed by Coongress (Republicans killed them all) to protect us from another oil spill?

The Middle, Really?

You hear it all the time.  If the two sides would just work together.  If they could just compromise.  Both sides are at fault and what this reflects is a belief that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, because both sides can’t be completely wrong can they?  Here are two examples;  The first is from a Jon Stewart interview with Robert Reich:

Jon:  It strikes me that we are in a very strange time in history where both sides of the political debate, and we are only allowed to have two because we are chimps, but one side believes in more laissez faire capitalism, tax rat that frees up the rich to create jobs for the rest of us, sort of a 1920 income model.  They seem to have gotten a lot of what they want.  The other side is the new deal side where the state is a larger social safety net, where there is a lot of infrastructure spending.  They seem to have gotten what they want.  So now we have two camps who have basically codified their desires, but cannot exist without imploding.

Now Jon makes some statements here that are patently false.  If the safety net he is referring to which is Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he has bought into the the conventional wisdom that we can’t afford them.  As Dean Baker and others try to point out over all the noise is that Social Security is sound, is not hurting our deficit (it pays for itself) and with some minor structural fixes, will be there forever (past 2038 which under present funding would be only sound to 80% of its obligations).  He also points out that if Medicare and Medicaid cost us what health care does in the rest of the industrialized nations (single payer systems) these would not be problems either and our social programs are modest compared with other nations. But one side refuses to consider these solutions.

Then Jon goes on to say we have got what we wanted in infrastructure spending.  Exactly where would that be Jon, as our infrastructure is crumbling?  Our spending has been on a downward slide since 1975 and even hurting Europe outspends us on infrastructure improvements.  So the assumption that both sides have gotten what they wanted is false and since the Ronald Reagan days, we have been transferring wealth to the rich and our economy is declining for the middle class.  Every study says we are moving further and further right, and you don’t need a study to see that moderate Republican policies proposed by a Democratic President go down in flames to understand how far right we have been moving.  One side has gotten what they wanted, the other side continues to capitulate in the spirit of “compromise”, and the country is getting worse and worse off.  The only thing Jon had right here was that we cannot continue this divided nation “without imploding”.  Blaming both sides equally is tilting at windmills.  It is also a lie.

Now we get to Exibit 2 which is Tom Friedman’s column on Sunday (Down With Everything) and we hear the same thing:

“A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system…such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever.”

It is the same old drivel, refusing to point out that the Republicans have blocked anything in the Senate, and refused to compromise.  His failure to point a finger, like Jon Stewart’s, is a telling indicator of either blindness, or craven cowardliness to maintain access to both sides.  But either way, it is a gross disservice to the country.  Yes, both sides are controlled by money, but at least the Democrats try new things, which are blocked by the Republicans every time.  It wasn’t the Democrats who filibustered getting rid of the tax breaks to oil companies or passing the tax fairness bill.  It was the Republicans who passed the Blunt amendment to allow employers to deny health coverage based upon their private whims.  Get a grip here.  One side is totally out of whack.

Even a casual observer of politics will tell you that the country has not just moved to the right, it has lurched to the right.  Even moderate Republican positions are now seen as liberal, and by the way, those moderate Republican positions from back in the Reagan days are what is increasing our inequality in this country and is at the root of all our problems.  The middle is not the answer if middle solutions don’t change the fundamental distribution of wealth and power in this nation, and they don’t.

I listened to Up with Chris Hayes on Saturday and he was talking about global warming with a few moderate Republicans who get it.  Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA Chief under Bush, was lamenting the Republican failure to recognize this, but she was making excuses why the left left them openings, like calling it Global “Warming” and then when it snowed they could draw the wrong conclusion.  Only if you are brain dead, but here was the real denial:  She said that this rejection of science was only from the radical right, whereas Chris pointed out that surveys show that over half of Republicans don’t believe global warming is happening.  What there is left of moderate Republicans are in total denial about the state of their ideas and their party.

My point is simply this.  We are in gross denial if we think moderates or the middle will help us (or that compromise is even possible).  We have moved so far to the right that the country doesn’t even recognize moderate, and labels it liberal left.  But we are all ignoring that the policies over the last 30 years as income inequality grew, are what caused our collapse.  We have to get back to where we were after WWII, and that means major investments in our future (austerity does not work and confusing microeconomics with macroeconomics is a disaster:  See Europe or our own terribly slow recovery), we have to pay for our investments (delayed now, but once the economy grows stronger), we need a single payer health care system, and a fair tax code, much simplified.  This is not liberal babbling, it is what will work and what will work is what we are ignoring as we have Republicans blocking everything.

What I am proposing is simply that the right has become destructive, and whether it is the media or pundits who blame both sides, or wish for them to work together simply encourage more failed solutions.  What I have listed are all proven solutions if we could just learn from history or take a lesson from our neighbors.  Instead we have puritan Republicans demanding austerity, status quo, and more tax cuts for the wealthy.  The only thing more astounding than that, is that they appeal to over half the country, most who will suffer from these policies.  But we are a great country, right?






A Boy of Summer

Today in Boston they will have their 100th anniversary at Fenway Park.  This means something to me, one because I love to watch baseball, and two, because I know one of the boys of summer who played there.  That would be my brother-in-law, Larry Wolfe.  Larry doesn’t talk much about his four years in the big leagues, but he is one of the very few who were good enough to get a chance to play at that level.  I am sure those days were some of the happiest of his life.  He worked his way to the big leagues through the farm systems and traveled the country, Central America, and Japan.  He even played catcher one game because everyone else was injured.  Boston has invited all living players and managers back for the game today and I will be looking for Larry and his family today while watching the game.  Enjoy your day Larry, you earned it.

Larry Wolfe Fielding Stats (Baseball Fielding Terms)
Year Tm Lg Pos G PO A E DP FP RFg GS InnOuts
1977 MIN AL 3B 8 9 13 0 1 1000 2.75
1978 MIN AL 3B 81 60 143 10 9 953 2.506
1978 MIN AL SS 7 6 20 2 2 929 3.714
1979 BOS AL SS 2 2 1 0 1 1000 1.5
1979 BOS AL DH 1 0 0
1979 BOS AL C 1 2 0 0 0 1000 2
1979 BOS AL 3B 9 10 18 2 3 933 3.111
1979 BOS AL 2B 27 28 50 3 11 963 2.889
1979 BOS AL 1B 1 6 1 0 0 1000 7
1980 BOS AL 3B 14 3 8 0 2 1000 0.786
1980 BOS AL DH 4 0 0


You know, every now and then a couple of events occur that kind of bring together and focus what you have been thinking or observing. That happened to me in the following two events:

Hilary Rosen and the Non-Argument

I am one of those sadly deluded individuals who believed that once the facts were on the table, minds could be changed. This is basis of the Enlightenment, that reasonable rational people, pushing prejudice, religion, and superstition out of the way, could arrive at truth through rational processes. The last 12 years or so have disavowed me of that belief. But I have, as all good engineers and scientists would, looked for the why. Why do people hang on to beliefs that are demonstratively wrong?

Of course I have read George Lakoff on framing, and Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness, and these ideas/books show us how we can misperceive, but give us tools to reach truth and guard against blocking truth. But Chris Mooney’s asked the same questions I was asking, why obvious truth was not getting through, and in his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science, I believe he hit on a model that strikes home. It goes something like this: Our human brain evolved as two separate entities. Brain 1 was more primitive and were automatic responses like fight or flight (emotional reactions). The second part of our brain, Brain 2, evolved around intellect and was the more slow, but the reasoning part of our being. Our memories and neural patterns are not like a computer, but are built up around an emotion context. So when the brain processes an event, the memories and feelings around that event that are energized are a function of this neural pattern. That would be a rough approximation of George Lakoff’s framing.

The first thing about an idea or an event we feel is that emotional reaction of our more primitive brain, Brain 1, in many cases on a subconscious level. And those feelings, memories, and selected information about that event are flooded into our reasoning brain and in many case overwhelms it, long before Brain 2 kicks into action. He calls it motivated reasoning. From his book:

We’ve inherited an Enlightenment tradition of thinking of beliefs as if they’re somehow disembodied, suspended above us in the ether, and all you have to do is float up the right bit of correct information and wrong beliefs will dispel, like bursting a soap bubble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Beliefs are physical. To attack them is like attacking one part of a person’s anatomy, almost like pricking his or her skin (or worse). And motivated reasoning might perhaps best be thought of as a defensive mechanism that is triggered by a direct attack upon a belief system, physically embodied in the brain.”

So with that model in mind, let’s examine the reaction to Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney not working a day in her life. When I heard that, saw the actual interview, and read the words, I found nothing in there about stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home moms are just one subset of people who have not worked a day in their life. She was, in my mind, referring to not having been in the workplace and experienced the need to work or the challenges that brought, irrespective of why she wasn’t in the workplace. But most women, regardless of political persuasion, heard something entirely different, and that was a defamation of stay-at-home moms.

I think we are seeing what Chis Mooney was describing in action. I had no emotion connection here and so I dealt with it as a simple non-threatening fact. She had not been in the work place a day in her life. She had never faced a tough economic choice. Mother’s on the other hand, have a whole set of strong emotions about their choices, or lack thereof, around child raising. That statement probably activated many strong emotional states including guilt, anger, pride, second guessing, all around their role as a mother and the choices they made. They heard that statement as a derogatory description of stay-at-home Moms. Am I right about what Hilary was saying or are most women’s initial reaction? I guess that is not the point right now, the point is that emotion is a strong force that clouds an issue, and maybe negates my wished for state of rational human beings. By the way, I think I am right. See Keli Goff.

The 1% Or How Inequality (and Republican Defense of it) is Destroying our Economy

Tuesday in my blog I wrote about how the transfer of wealth to the 1% is destroying our economy at two levels. One, it is destroying the middle class and their ability to have disposable income to buy things and sustain existing and new businesses. Second, because the wealthy controlled all the political power, they are able to maintain the status quo, stifling innovation and change that would reinvigorate our economy with new emerging industries. One might rephrase this last item as is money in politics really the problem or is it a symptom of just only a few people having money to control our politicians?

At any rate, along comes an article about two French Economists who have been studying incomes and their distribution (For Two Economists, the Buffett Rule is Just a Start). As an aside, it was the Frenchman Alex de Tocquevilles’s Democracy in America in 1831, that originally put a finger on what was so different and great about America. What these two current day economists found was that the level of inequality in America is “as acute as it was before the Great Depression”, and that this has occurred over the last 30 years (the Reagan Revolution). As they said:

“The United States is getting accustomed to a completely crazy level of inequality. People say that reducing inequality is radical. I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical.”

In a way, the United States is becoming like Old Europe, which is very strange in historical perspective. The United States used to be very egalitarian, not just in spirit but in actuality. Inequality of wealth and income used to be much larger in France. And very high taxes on the very rich – that was invented in the United States.”

Oh no, we are not becoming an oligarchy of the rich and stifling our economy, except people from the outside can see this phenomenon clearly. But hey, these are Frenchmen. What do they know? They had that WMD thing all wrong when they fought Bush on invading Iraq didn’t they? Do we still call them freedom fries?

America the Beautiful

Lets see if I got all this today:

  • American soldiers pose with body parts from Taliban attackers breaking the Geneva Conventions, Military Law, and failing to learn anything from the last time they did this, inciting further violence in Afghanistan
  • American Secret Service members who were in Columbia to protect the President were (some) procuring prostitutes for their recreational activities, again violating numerous rules, compromising their security clearance, sabotaging the trip and American esteem, and in general putting the President at risk
  • Ted Nugent makes vile and outrageous threats and claims about the President and other Democrats, and the Republicans are afraid to distance themselves from what could be violence inflamming rhetoric because this is the base who love their guns
  • The Republican candidate is about to do an etch-a-sketch and reverse many of his base baiting stances to try to appeal to the middle and we are left with the impression that he will say or do anything to get elected.  Makes you wonder what he really stands for

Are we number one or what?  Just makes you damn proud to be an American if you are white trash.

Pesky Job Killing Government Regulations

In Southern California scientests and engineers built a 5-story building on a shake table to test the latest earthquake constructions methods.  In a simulated 8.8 magnitude earthquake very little damage was observed primarily due to siesmic dampners in the foundation.  These are cylindrical rubber bearings that basically serve as shock absorbers for buildings in earthquake-prone regions. In California, new hospitals, municipal buildings and schools are required to have base isolators.  Oh those pesky government regulations that just add cost to building construction, and of course, save inumerable lives.  I guess it all depends on what is important to you.